In a new audio Bible, the Holy Trinity has some familiar voices: actor Samuel L. Jackson plays God the Father, actor Blair Underwood performs the role of Jesus, and Dallas megachurch pastor Bishop T. D. Jakes renders the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament portion of Inspired By The Bible Experience arrived in stores the first week of October. The all-black cast took on the characters of the Bible, backed with music and sound effects. The executive producers of the projecta collaboration between Inspired By Media Group and Zondervanhope it will reach a generation less interested in opening the physical pages of the Bible.
"We wanted to create a project, a Bible experience, that would communicate to a young generation, and so we felt that we needed to create an urban product to do that," said Lou "Buster" Brown, co-founder of the Inspired By Media Group. "While it is an all-black cast, it's not a black product by any means, because when you listen to it, you don't hear color. You hear the Word of God."
The 19-CD package is expected to be followed next fall by a larger Old Testament dramatization. Both productions re-enact Today's New International Version.
Originally, project organizers planned for a cast of dozens, but the cast list increased to more than 250 as word spread and others asked to be included.
"The phone started ringing off the hook," said Brown, who produced soundtracks for The Prince of Egypt. "The project had taken on a different weight. It had become a legacy project."
Denzel Washington and his wife, Pauletta, recite Song of Solomon. Angela Bassett reads the stories of Jesus' Nativity and Resurrection.
Paul Caminiti, vice president and publisher of Bibles at Zondervan, said audio Bibles have already been a staple of the company, but the talent recruited for this version doesn't compare to past productions. "We've used professional voices before," he said, "but not of the ilk of Denzel Washington and Cuba Gooding and Angela Bassett and Blair Underwood."
The Hollywood cast sets this ambitious project apart from other dramatized versions, said Lynn Garrett, religion editor of Publishers Weekly.
"One trend I have noticed is toward the dramatic presentation and away from the reading," Garrett told CT. "The Bible Experience is one example of that." Tyndale released its dramatized Bible Alive! in 2003. Oasis Audio pulled together Christian music artists for The Message Remix this year.
Originally cast as an angel, Jackson asked to be promoted to the God role. His lines include, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well-pleased," in the scene of Jesus' Jordan River baptism.
Neither Inspired By Media Group nor Zondervan required that cast members sign any kind of statement of faith. "One of the things that we recognized is the Bible is full of people that weren't saved," said Brown, who describes himself as a born-again Christian who attends a nondenominational church in Porter Ranch, California. "That doesn't mean that God won't use them to deliver his Word."
As recording of the Old Testament continues, the production team is acting on faith, since Jackson has not recommitted to God's starring role.
"As of now, we have not recast God," Brown said of the 80 hours required for the divine voice in the first books of the Bible. "I'm going to leave that in God's hands."
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The Bible Experience is available at ChristianBook.com and other retailers.
Zondervan's The Bible Experience section has a free podcast of the Nativity story.
Inspired By Media Group has information about The Bible Experience on its site.
The Bible Experience is currently a top seller.